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BFHE: Bicol colleges and universities unite!

With all confidence, they came and conquered, “emerging from the Pandemic to look at (into) the future.”

More than 100 leader-educators representing 55 colleges and universities in the Bicol region gathered at the Ateneo de Naga University for the two-day General Assembly of the Bicol Foundation of Higher Education, Inc or BFHE, last April 17-18. BFHE President Fr. Roberto Rivera, SJ, also the president of the ADNU, welcomed Commissioner Dr. Aldrin Darilag of the Commission on Higher Education central office and the Regional Director Septon dela Cruz along with the distinguished men and women presidents and administrators of the member HEIS with their vice-presidents for academics and staff in tow. Fr. Rivera called for more complementation, collaboration, coordination, and cooperation among HEIs to implement higher education programs and projects to ensure quality higher education in Bicol and pursue national development.

The wave of mixed emotions of excitement among the members was understandable. It was the first physical face-to-face gathering of the top executives of higher educational institutions since the last General Assembly in January 2020, the start of the Pandemic. To catch up with lost time and help battle post Pandemic uncertainties amidst new challenges, everyone agreed that the future is significantly at stake today. Collaboration, not competition, towards delivering quality higher education is the call of the times.

Marching together

The snappy cadets from the Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation, Canaman Camarines Sur, livened the event as they marched for the entrance and exit colors in their shimmering white uniforms. Their entry into the hall signaled a resounding message: we must march together toward one goal. The cadets belong to the Coastguard Auxiliary Officers Training Corps (CGAOTC) with Capt. Capt. Percival C. Ecleo PN (Ret) as Commandant. It was a sight to behold. Their steady rhythmic movements matched the positive aura around the Ateneo gym. Dr. Marilisa Jimenez-Ampuan, the energetic president of the Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation, Canaman Camarines Sur campus, and BFHE treasurer, said, “It was a tiring but meaningful get-together.” She had been at the center of several days of preparations for the event as the head of the Secretariat.

As a long-time member, she recalls how the late Commodore Jaime C Jimenez, the Founder of the Mariners schools, began as an active participant in BFHE meetings in the 1980s to becoming a Board member until he left to steer the Philippine Association of Maritime Institutions (PAMI) as its three-time president. The MPCF has since become the region’s only accredited school with maritime engineering programs.

She mentioned the tenacity of the private schools in the Bicol region to weather the challenges that come their way from time to time through thick and thin, especially during the Pandemic. They organized the Bicol Conference for Higher Education Inc through the collective efforts of five private school presidents led by Dr. Melchor Villanueva of then Naga College. Other HEIs followed, like the University of Saint Anthony, Ateneo de Naga University, and the Divine Word College, now named the University of Sto. Tomas in Legazpi City, Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation, University of Sta Isabel, and the University of Nueva Caceres, the first university in Bicol, with President Dr. Fay Lauraya, who also serves as BFHE vice president. SUCs like the Central Bicol State University in Agriculture and Bicol University soon forged unity with BU, now hosting the BFHE communication center. Indeed, the BFHE can now sound off a louder clarion: Bicol colleges and universities, unite!

The BFHE is a non-stock, non-profit association of private and public higher educational institutions in Bicol’s six provinces - Albay, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Masbate, Catanduanes, and Sorsogon. It is the recognized regional association of HEIs in Bicol. From its original 10 HEI members in 1981, it has grown into a robust and unified association of over a hundred HEI members, with about half actively contributing to its projects and plans.

I was on travel to Manila when Dr. Ampuan messaged me about the progress of the BFHE GA. She was all agog about displaying the products of the Tabang Bikol Movement, a humanitarian NGO Partner of Mariners in the CHEd-funded Social Enterprise Development project. Other schools had also put up their Booths to showcase similar collaboration. The Pandesal Marinero and E-Sense natural anti-stress essential oils were a big hit!

Double whammy

On a personal note, I cheered and congratulated the double-whammy winners of the Mariners. First was its research and extension team led by Eric Lucena and Pat Boneo for the winning paper entitled “Development of a Wastewater Filtration System Using Indigenous Materials.” It was a project study that the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD) funded in 2020 to enhance coastal marine environmental sustainability through drainage wastewater filtration systems using indigenous materials. Another winner I congratulated was Dr.Cely Binoya, MPCF Canaman consultant and faculty, who was the Moderator for the Panel Discussion on “Futures Thinking for Bicol HEIs” with Chancellor Jose Camacho of UP Los Banos, RD Septon dela Cruz of CHEd -V, Engr Mario Villanueva of Naga College Foundation, Fr Ernesto Arceo, president of the Local Universities and Colleges. Doc Cely, a TBM Board Trustee and SED project team leader won the event’s coveted raffle: an all-expenses round-trip ticket to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam! What an unforgettable and meaningful BFHE event, indeed!


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